Suddenly, but it’s OK … as I’m dead right

Blog post posted on 07/12/18 |

With the festive season now upon us my mind occasionally turns back to Christmas 1990, 14 December to be precise on a very cold early turn. 

An ordinary routine patrol day now etched forever on my memory.  This was to become a defining career moment, attending my first fatal road crash.  As a police officer I had achieved my dream job, I was now a traffic officer.

I had attended numerous sudden deaths in the preceding five years, but with that white cap and bright yellow coat came a big responsibility: the job of investigating why people had died on the road.

It is possible to train in all the aspects of the law, become proficient at dealing with collisions, but nothing in reality can train you for that first time you have to search someone, now a lifeless body, who has been involved in a catastrophic collision, for something to confirm their identity. 

Then once you find out who they are, you are making that dreaded trip to a front door and in an instant, your words will change a family’s life forever.

Over the years I investigated numerous collisions from slight bumps to fatal crashes, and in the main people had those collisions for the following relatively simple reasons, sometimes for more than one of these reasons:

  • Speed on approach – the big one, just arriving at situations too fast for the circumstances with no time to react to road or traffic conditions
  • Cornering – see above and often with no idea how to assess them correctly
  • Overtaking – most are never taught this skill so they learn by experience
  • Distractions – once it was tuning the radio or changing the cassette – now mobile phones
  • Intoxication – from both alcohol and drugs

Have you ever noticed when people talk about a driving or riding incident that happens on the road, they use that word – ‘suddenly.’ But was it? 

Was it really suddenly, or was there something to be seen or anticipated?  You listen now when people go to great lengths to tell you their personal story and you will hear what I mean.  ‘Suddenly all the traffic stopped in front of me.’ ‘Suddenly he just pulled out from the junction.’ ‘I was overtaking and suddenly a car appeared.’ 

In advanced driving and riding we use the term TUG to refer to the information that is around us, i.e. we take, use and give information at all times to make an informed driving and riding plan. 

We use the information to plan what can be seen, what cannot be seen and what we can reasonably expect to develop.  So ultimately we observe, anticipate, prioritise, decide and act accordingly for the prevailing circumstances. 

So if we all did this much better would there be zero collisions?  Well probably not quite, as to err is human and humans are behind the wheel or the handlebars. Personally, I suspect there would be a hugely significant reduction in people being killed or seriously injured.

Another one to watch out for is those who are exercising their rights. ‘But it’s my right of way’ I hear them cry and profess it wasn’t their fault that the other vehicle ‘suddenly just pulled out’ into their path.

We don’t actually have a right of way but we do have a priority over others depending on road signage and markings. But you know what … there is nothing worse than being ‘dead right.’

As it doesn’t matter if you are in the right but dead - as you will still be dead.

Instead of thinking ‘it’s my right of way’ we really should be thinking: ‘What is my plan to mitigate the possibility of them pulling out in my path,’ ‘Can I do anything to help the situation’ etc. etc. 

That is much better than being dead.  As being dead is very final and someone has to come and deal with that.

In closing I want everyone to reflect on those two things, the ‘suddenly’ and being ‘dead right.’ 

Neither actually need to happen.  A driving licence is a privilege earned not an absolute right and we all have a duty to equitably share the road space with each other. 

No one wants to receive ‘that’ knock on the door this Christmas, or at any other time of the year for that matter. I speak for those police colleagues still serving, in saying that they actually don’t want to have to knock on your door either.

Have a fantastic Christmas and New Year. Always enjoy the drive or ride, but remember – it’s none for the road .

By Shaun Cronin

IAM RoadSmart regional service delivery team manager (southern)